• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Inspiration > The View from the Middle
  • OhMG! News


    April 11, 2014:
    Fall 2014 Children's Sneak Peek
    A peek at forthcoming middle grade books (as well as picture books and YA books) in a round-up from Publisher's Weekly. First printed in the February 22 issue, but now available online. Time to add to your to-read list. Read more ...

    April 9, 2014:
    How many Newbery winners have you read?
    You could make a traditional list of all the Newbery Medal Award-winning Children's Books you've read, but there's something so satisfying when you check them off and get a final tally on this BuzzFeed quiz. Read more ...

    March 28, 2014:
    Middle Grade fiction is hot at 2014 Bologna Children's Book Fair

    For the second year in a row, publishers are clamoring for middle-grade, reporters Publishers Weekly. "I’ve been coming [to Bologna] for 12 to 15 years, and I’ve never had as many European publishers asking for middle-grade," said Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency. Read more ...

    February 14, 2014:
    Cybils Awards announced
    Ultra by David Carroll (Scholastic Canada) wins the Cybil for middle grade fiction; Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (Disney Hyperion) wins for Speculative Fiction. Read more.

    January 27, 2014: And the Newbery Medal goes to ...
    Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery Medal for "Flora & Ulysses"; Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Author award for "P.S. Be Eleven." Newbery Honor awards to authors Vince Vawter, Amy Timberlake, Kevin Henkes and Holly Black. For all the exciting ALA Youth Media Award News ... READ MORE

    November 12, 2013:
    Vote in the GoodReads semifinal round

    Readers' votes have narrowed the middle-grade semifinals down to 20 titles. Log in to your GoodReads account and vote for your favorite middle-grade (and in other categories, of course). Read more ...

    November 9, 2013:
    Publishers Weekly Top Children's Books of 2013

    Middle-grade and young adult titles selected by the editors of Publishers Weekly as their top picks of the year. Let the season of "top ten books" begin! Read more ...

    October 14, 2013:
    Middle Shelf: Cool Reads for Kids debuts January 2014

    Shelf Media Group, publisher of Shelf Unbound indie book review magazine, will launch a new free digital-only publication for middle-grade readers. The debut issue features interviews with such notable authors as Margaret Peterson Haddix and Chris Grabenstein as well as reviews, excerpts, and more. Middle Shelf will be published bi-monthly beginning in January 2014.
    Read more ...

    September 19, 2013: Writer-in-Residence program at Thurber House

    Dream of time and space to focus on your own writing project? Applications now being accepted (11/1/2013 deadline) for The Thurber House Residency in Children's Literature, a month-long retreat in the furnished third-floor apartment of Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Read more ...

    September 18, 2013: Vermont College of Fine Arts Scholarship opportunity

    Barry Goldblatt Literary launches The Angela Johnson Scholarship, a talent-based grant for writers of color attending the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA. Up to two $5,000 grants will be awarded each year. Read more ....

    September 16, 2013:
    National Book Awards longlist for youth literature

    For the first time, the NBA is presenting lists of 10 books/authors on the longlist in each category. The 2013 young adult literature list includes five middle grade novels and five YA. Read more ...

    Sept. 13, 2013: Spring preview
    Check out Publishers Weekly roundup of upcoming children's books to be published in spring 2014. Read more...

    August 21, 2013:
    Want to be a Cybils Award Judge?

    Middle grade categories are fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction. Applications due August 31! Read more ...

    August 19, 2013:
    S&S and BN reach a deal
    Readers will soon be able to find books from Simon & Schuster at Barnes & Noble. The bookstore chain was locked in a disagreement with the publisher over how much it was willing to pay for books. Read more ...

    August 6, 2013:
    NPR's 100 Must-Reads for Kids
    NPR's Backseat Book Club asked listeners to nominate their favorite books for readers ages 9 to 14. More than 2,000 people nominated titles, and a panel of Newbery authors brought the list to 100. Most are middle grade books. Read more ...

    July 2, 2013:
    Penguin & Random House Merger

    The new company, Penguin Random House, will control more than 25 percent of the trade book market in the United States. On Monday, the newly formed company began to take shape, only hours after a middle-of-the-night announcement that the long-planned merger had been completed. Read more ...

    March 28, 2013: Big at Bologna

     This year at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, the focus has shifted to middle-grade.  “A lot of foreign publishers are cutting back on YA and are looking for middle-grade,” said agent Laura Langlie, according to Publisher's Weekly.  Lighly illustrated or stand-alone contemporary middle-grade fiction is getting the most attention.  Read more...


    March 10, 2013: Marching to New Titles

    Check out these titles releasing in March...


    March 5, 2013: Catch the BEA Buzz

    Titles for BEA's Editor Buzz panels have been announced.  The middle-grade titles selected are:

    A Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

    Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward

    Nick and Tesla's High-Voltages Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

    The Tie Fetch by Amy Herrick

    For more Buzz books in other categories,


    February 20, 2013: Lunching at the MG Roundtable 

    Earlier this month, MG authors Jeanne Birdsall, Rebecca Stead, and N.D. Wilson shared insight about writing for the middle grades at an informal luncheon with librarians held in conjunction with the New York Public Library's Children's Literary Salon "Middle Grade: Surviving the Onslaught."

    Read about their thoughts...


    February 10, 2013: New Books to Love

    Check out these new titles releasing in February...


    January 28, 2013: Ivan Tops List of Winners

    The American Library Association today honored the best of the best from 2012, announcing the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards, along with a host of other prestigious youth media awards, at their annual winter meeting in Seattle.

    The Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Honor books were: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin; and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

    The Coretta Scott King Book Award went to Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award,which honors an author for his or her long-standing contributions to children’s literature, was presented to Katherine Paterson.

    The Pura Belpre Author Award, which honors a Latino author, went to Benjamin Alire Saenz for his novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which was also named a Printz Honor book and won the Stonewall Book Award for its portrayal of the GLBT experience.

    For a complete list of winners…


    January 22, 2013: Biography Wins Sydney Taylor

    Louise Borden's His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, a verse biography of the Swedish humanitarian, has won the Sydney Taylor Award in the middle-grade category. The award is given annually to books of the highest literary merit that highlight the Jewish experience. Aimee Lurie, chair of the awards committee, writes, "Louise Borden's well-researched biography will, without a doubt, inspire children to perform acts of kindness and speak out against oppression."

    For more...


    January 17, 2013: Erdrich Wins Second O'Dell

    Louise Erdrich is recipient of the 2013 Scott O'Dell Award for her historical novel Chickadee, the fourth book in herBirchbark House series. Roger Sutton,Horn Book editor and chair of the awards committee, says of Chickadee,"The book has humor and suspense (and disarmingly simple pencil illustrations by the author), providing a picture of 1860s Anishinabe life that is never didactic or exotic and is briskly detailed with the kind of information young readers enjoy." Erdrich also won the O'Dell Award in 2006 for The Game of Silence, the second book in theBirchbark series. 

    For more...


    January 15, 2013: After the Call

    Past Newbery winners Jack Gantos, Clare Vanderpool, Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Stead, and Laura Amy Schlitz talk about how winning the Newbery changed (or didn't change) their lives in this piece from Publishers Weekly...


    January 2, 2013: On the Big Screen

    One of our Mixed-up Files members may be headed to the movies! Jennifer Nielsen's fantasy adventure novel The False Prince is being adapted for Paramount Pictures by Bryan Cogman, story editor for HBO's Game of Thrones. For more...


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The View from the Middle


Recently I achieved a rather major milestone in life. No, I didn’t land a three-book, seven-figure, Spielberg-wants-the-movie-rights book deal. (Yeah, I wish.) Or, discover a cure for cancer, solve global warming or even create the world’s most awesome ham and cheese sandwich. (Wish, wish and wish.)

No, I turned forty.

Yeah, yeah. I know. Forty is the new twenty and eighty is the new ten and all that. Still, this seemed to be one of those momentous occasions that called for a big cupcake, a pitcher of margaritas and… er, I mean, one of those momentous occasions that called for a little reflection and soul-searching.

Also, I really needed a blog post.

So, like most lime- and confection-induced Deep Thoughts, I found myself contemplating my life as a writer. In my very early days, I wrote about such profound subjects as Fluffy the Cat and my pet guinea pig. Then, my teenage years were spent penning overly dramatic and cliche-addled poetry about brooding guys and broken hearts. By my twenties and early thirties (when I wasn’t busy cranking out newspaper articles about four-way stop signs or press releases about crab cakes), I alternated between wanting to be the next Dave Barry or Ernest Hemingway. Clearly, I had a thing for south Florida.

Then something shifted as I entered my mid- to late-thirties. I turned my attention to writing novels. But instead of producing the next Farewell to Arms, I discovered myself writing stories for kids. Now, maybe this is just called finding your voice as a writer. Yet, as I licked away the last of my big 4-0 cupcake frosting, this little fact hit me:

Middle-age is an awful lot like the middle-grades.

Seriously. Just bear with me. (And go grab yourself a cupcake or margarita. I’ll wait.)

Great. Welcome back! Okay, where was I? (I’m getting old, you know.) Right… you see, there’s just something about the middle of life that strongly parallels those in-between middle grade years. Here’s how:

You’re neither Here nor There

Remember being ten? Old enough to venture off on your own a bit. Only you can’t really go very far because you don’t have a car. Or a driver’s license for that matter. At the same time, you’ve “outgrown” your favorite Polly Pocket and Thomas the Tank Engine sets. (Even if you do still secretly love them. In a very noncommittal sort of way, of course.) Because seriously, you don’t want to be that kid. You know, the one who shows up in the fifth grade cafeteria with his crustless cheese sandwich and juice pouch stuffed in a Teletubbies lunch box. Maybe you can pull off that look when you’re sixteen. And the lunch box is your purse. And therefore ironic in a very angsty way. But at ten? Face it. You’re kind of stuck.

Yeah, welcome to middle age. You’re old enough to go wherever you want. But at the same time, you’re not quite old enough to dress in purple all the time, tell everyone exactly what you think and just be considered “eccentric.” And even though some nights you figure it would be all kinds of awesome to rock a miniskirt and dance on the tabletops, no one wants to be that crazy old person at the college pub. Face it, you’re just gonna have to groove to Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch in the privacy of your own home.

Your body turns on you in strange — and often alarming — ways

Sometime around your eleventh or twelfth birthday weird things begin to happen. Your arms and legs suddenly seem too long. Your ears don’t fit your head anymore. Your teeth are way too big for your mouth (and, if you’re especially lucky, have big metal squares glued on top). Suddenly, you need to shave your armpits. And you start to smell funny. You go to bed one night thinking maybe it was all a bad dream and wake up with a giant zit. Right on the end of your nose. You begin to regret using all your big sister’s Clearasil pads as coasters for your doll tea party when you were six. You wonder if they’d still work if you got them wet.

And yes people, sometime around your fortieth birthday weird things also start to happen. Parts start shifting. Hairs begin to sprout in places you don’t need them and fall out of places you do. Once again, it looks like you need a new dryer because this one Keeps Shrinking All of Your Pants. And seriously, who invented low-rise jeans anyway? You go to bed one night thinking it was all a bad dream and wake up with three new lines across your forehead. Only to your distress, you discover the pillow didn’t leave them there. You seriously begin to regret giving your big sister that oh-so-hilarious gallon-sized tub of Oil of Olay on her fortieth birthday. You wonder if you can have it back.

Other middle-graders begin to notice — and point out — your many flaws

  • Your knees are too bony
  • You walk funny
  • You sing off-key
  • Your haircut is so 1985
  • Those skinny jeans are so last year
  • OMG, nobody says OMG anymore! Duh!
  • Please don’t stand next to me. People will think I know you.

Yes, when you’re eleven, these junior hecklers are known as your classmates.

When you’re forty, they are simply called your children.

Still, you somehow retain (or regain) your childhood sense of wonder… and hope for the future

Yes, despite everything pre-adolescence and middle-age throw at you, there’s still this — your innate belief in magic. When you are nine, sure it’s begun to occur to you that Santa probably can’t reach billions of kids in just one night. And why would some fairy want to collect baby teeth — and pay for them, anyway? Still, this doesn’t stop you from tearing open your Christmas presents with abandon and checking under your pillow for a buck. And you’re still quite sure if you wish real hard on the evening’s first star all your dreams will come true. And that trap door at Grandma’s house? That’s most certainly a secret portal to another world. A world where you are the hero.

These are just things you know deep in your heart of hearts, even if you are bound to forget them when you’re a too-cool sixteen year-old wearing black eyeliner and combat boots.

And it’s okay. Because when you’re forty, these secrets come back to you. Even though you’d long ago stopped believing, suddenly the magic becomes real again. Because now you are Santa. And the Tooth Fairy. And when you tuck your child in at night, you are sure to point out that first evening star, close your eyes and make a wish, too. Because holding those tiny hands in yours, you know deep in your heart of hearts, that wishes do come true.

And the other thing you know? That trap door… it really is a portal to another world. With a little imagination and determination you just might discover a way to:

  • Be a superhero
  • Hit a ball clear out of the park
  • Dance with that cute boy from homeroom
  • Travel back in time to run with the dinosaurs
  • Discover a cure for cancer
  • Solve global warming
  • Tell a story
  • Believe in magic
  • Find inspiration

All you have to do is open that door. Just a speck. And dare to peek inside.

So how about you? What is your inspiration? Why do you read, write or love children’s literature? Tell me in the comments below. Or just say, “Happy Birthday!” I never get tired of hearing it :-). I’ll send a virtual cupcake your way!

Jan Gangsei still pens the occasional angsty poetry, only now it’s focused on brooding toddlers and broken potty seats. And although she absolutely loves writing for children, if the Miami Herald just so happens to find itself in need of another humor columnist, she’s pretty sure she could squeeze that in, too. In fact, she’ll take any excuse to ponder the oddities of life over a cupcake and margarita.



  1. Danette  •  Aug 20, 2010 @7:57 am

    Classic! I never would have thought to parallel these two age groups! Excellent points–my favorite is that when you’re young, the other students snipe at you, when you’re older, it’s your own children! Hahahahohnohowhorriblehahahah!

  2. Karen Schwartz  •  Aug 20, 2010 @8:37 am

    Love this, and boy can I relate! Maybe that’s why I love middle-grade, I can so relate to that in-between awkward stage.

  3. Laura Marcella  •  Aug 20, 2010 @8:51 am

    Happy Birthday, Jan!!! I hope you have a fabulous day!

    This is such a terrific post. You compared those two age groups so great!

    I was the kid who didn’t want to grow up. I didn’t start losing interest in my dolls and toys until the summer before 7th grade. I was one of those kids who was very aware of my mortality and how the world worked. I definitely tried holding on to my childhood for as long as I could! It sure was a happy one. :)

    With that said, I still hang out with my inner child! I always dress my American Girl doll Molly for the appropriate season. I color a lot. Coloring is a great way for me to relax and de-stress. I suppose it brings back those happy, carefree childhood feelings! And if I had the room, I’d so build some of my Lego sets and set them out for conversation pieces. Some day when my hubby and I get a house!

  4. W.H. Beck  •  Aug 20, 2010 @8:51 am

    I love this post! Thanks!

  5. Heather Kephart  •  Aug 20, 2010 @9:05 am

    Happy Birthday from one 40 year old to another!

    This post is freaking brilliant! Kudos to you! I would have never made the connection, but it makes perfect sense.

    I’m inspired by everything. I pluck words out of the air. Phrases rattle around in my brain. I hear my children say things and my brain goes BOING. I see them move, and I am inspired to love. I am inspired by nature and the magic therein. I am inspired by longing, whether it be for success or acceptance. How can one NOT be inspired?


  6. Sydney Salter  •  Aug 20, 2010 @9:16 am

    Happy Birthday!!! And thanks for the smile. I’m glad I can use my age as an excuse for feeling so MG :) I write because I love it, but the readers are pretty great too.

  7. Sheri Larsen  •  Aug 20, 2010 @9:26 am

    You made me laugh. Thanks, and Happy Birthday!! The new twenty is hitting me next year. I think this helped. lol

  8. Becky Levine  •  Aug 20, 2010 @9:31 am

    What a wonderful post. Happy birthday! I managed to postpone the middles until my mid-forties, on the premise that both my grandmothers made it past 90, but you are so dead-on target about what it’s like.

    I have been, recently, thinking about my love of middle-grade fiction. I “found” it again as my son hit that age, but he’s now definitely into YA and older, and I still find myself so happy when I read a good MG novel. The book I’m writing is YA, but I’m thinking about ways to make the next choices MG…as maybe that’s my true home. And I think you hit some of the reasons. There is a shelter mixed with anticipation and coming excitement, versus, maybe, being set right down in the dead-center of the tension and danger. Yes, of course, kids at that age can be in serious trouble, and there are wonderful books dealing with it. But somehow, they’re not quite into as much of the responsibility yet, the ability/necessity to have to change the WHOLE world…they can concentrate more on their corner of that world? Maybe?

    Thanks for the nudge to think about this today. :)

  9. Melina  •  Aug 20, 2010 @9:33 am

    Cute post! I just turned 11 so I can relate to some of what you said.

  10. Tracy Abell  •  Aug 20, 2010 @9:49 am

    Happy Birthday, Jan! And thank you for the gift of these brilliant and painful insights. You made me laugh.

  11. Amie Borst  •  Aug 20, 2010 @11:57 am

    what a great post! i loved it!

    we can celebrate together – today is my birthday! so HaPpY BiRtHdAy to US (even if i am a little late)!

  12. Pamela Miller  •  Aug 20, 2010 @1:03 pm

    I’m mildy amused at the comparison. I turned 70 last year, still like tank tops and lots of things that make people look at me a bit oddly, but I can work with it. I still garden, have a 50 x 50 plot + flower beds, built my own patio this summer and am not adverse to doing most things I did at 40. Soooo, you have much to look forward to if you eat well, excercise and not smoke. Life is good, and gets better with time. Some wines age well … some don’t. I neither look, nor act “my” age, and love it.

    I used to have a website but Yahoo took it down as it wasn’t visited often enough. I am, however, on Facebook.

  13. Laurie Schneider  •  Aug 20, 2010 @4:03 pm

    One of my son’s friends told me last year I looked like a grown up but thought like a middle-schooler. In retrospect I probably should’ve been insulted…but as a middle-grade writer it made me happy.

  14. Sherrie Petersen  •  Aug 20, 2010 @4:52 pm

    Excellent! Now I understand why I enjoy MG books so much! Happy Birthday :)

  15. Joanne Prushing Johnson  •  Aug 20, 2010 @5:06 pm

    This was so funny and true. Great post.

  16. Cathe Olson  •  Aug 20, 2010 @7:32 pm

    OMG, that is so true. Great post!

  17. Kimberley Griffiths Little  •  Aug 20, 2010 @9:14 pm

    Hilarious! I loved this! You’ve truly captured it all.

  18. Jan Gangsei  •  Aug 20, 2010 @9:19 pm

    Thank you everyone for all the birthday wishes and nice comments! The new twenty rocks :-). Virtual cupcakes all the way around!

  19. Tricia Springstubb  •  Aug 21, 2010 @1:15 pm

    Hey, this deserves to be circulated widely! People, let’s send it to everyone we know of a certain age!

  20. Augusta Scattergood  •  Aug 21, 2010 @3:15 pm

    With any luck, when your kids are past middle grade and teen-ages, they’ll think you are cool and you can relive all their past adventures with them. Or as mine say, “when the statute of limitations runs out” = Lots of fodder for stories.

    Oh, and I for one think you need that Miami Herald column. Hilarious post!
    (and Happy Birthday from a fellow Leo. We rock!)

  21. Carmella  •  Aug 21, 2010 @5:32 pm

    Great post! Thanks for the laugh and happy birthday.

  22. Elissa Cruz  •  Aug 22, 2010 @10:50 am

    I’ve still got half a dozen years or so until I reach the new 20, but boy! I can already relate.

    Enjoy your “middle”, Jan, and thanks for this great post! Oh, and Happy Birthday, too!

  23. Samantha Clark  •  Aug 26, 2010 @9:06 pm

    This is a great post, Jan. Thanks so much. I’m new to this blog, having just found it looking for a blog written by writers of middle-grade books (there are a LOT of YA writers out there, but I write MG). But reading this post, it seems like my search for MG bloggers was inspired, because I’m turning 40 this year and, although I’m usually a pretty strong person and not worried about my age, the fact that 40 is looming in a couple months has been making me feel very … unsettled. Your post helped a lot, and made me laugh. I think everything you said was very true. I don’t have children, but I still believe in magic and look for portals. Thank you!